Q&A: The Hughes Brothers

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Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes burst on the filmmaking scene with the 1993 urban drama "Menace II Society." But the duo's Alcon-produced, Warner Bros.-distributed "Book of Eli," is their first since 2001's "From Hell."

The big question: Why the long wait between movies?

Albert Hughes: It was a combination of things. We tried to get a bunch of things off the ground but our tastes are not exactly in sync with the tastes of studios sometimes. There can be personality issues and we get cold feet really quickly. We get into something and if doesn't feel right and we think the rest of the movie is going to be a nightmare, we bow out. We were doing a lot of commercials in the meantime, living life. I've got a kid, he's got a kid. And then there's the twin thing. We had worked so closely together for our entire lives, eventually you want to separate and be recognized for yourself. For a year or two, we saw each other but not that frequently. And we worked separately. It was for the better. We had to basically grow up . It was like two half brains that only functioned when they were together. We had to learn to function separately.

The Hollywood Reporter: What made you sour on the business?

Albert Hughes: The climate of the business is more about tentpoles and these blockbuster movies that I don't think is in our DNA, unless it's a really cool story. What Christopher Nolan did with Batman was very respectable. Could we have done that? Maybe. If left alone, for the most part. Alcon, which made "Eli," is a great company. It's just two guys. It was a lot like New Line for our first movie. Here we dealt with Broderick (Johnson) and Andrew (Kosove). And that's the way movies should be made.

THR: You basically moved out of the country, correct?

Albert Hughes: I moved to Prague eight years ago. I have a kid in Los Angeles so I come out and stay there when I'm here to work. But if I had my choice, I would not set foot in this town or this country again. It's 50% the business I'm in and 50% the culture and politics of the country. The youthfulness of this country, not having to deal with thousands of years of sexuality, religion, everything. This country is a big baby and I don't want to be here while it's still learning. I'd rather be in a country where I don't understand the language and nobody is bothering me or telling me what to read or who to f***, and what movies to make. Out there, I do these little shorts that no one ever sees. They're experimental. I get more joy outta doing that than doing a movie. I can just make some bullshit and have fun. I've been doing that for 8 years.

THR: You guys fought really hard to get this movie. Why?

Allen Hughes: It was so unique. How many times do you see a movie about this book? Two guys are trying to get it, one trying to do bad with it, one just trying to preserve it. People consider this a genre, another post-apocalyptic movie, but that is beside the point. It could have been a Western or taken place on the moon. But the setting was exciting. You want the audience to go in and say, "Wow, I've never seen that before." No matter what you do. Nine times out of ten you'll probably not do that but there is that one time you may get lucky. Hopefully we got lucky.

THR: You made your own book, filled with scoreboards and comic book pages, to get the directing gig, right?

Allen Hughes: We had done a lot of big ads for Coke, Nike, you name it. And what we learned in that very competitive world is you have to book it. You have to put it in literary form and you have to put it in image form. You have to sell your vision to get the job because you are going up against titans in that world. My agent called me and said, "I found your next picture." And this guy had called up before with some corny things, so I was kind of skeptical. I said, "What's the title?" Because I'm a title guy. And he said, "The Book of Eli." And I went "Whoa." And he sent it to me right away. You never read the script right away but this time I did. I got to page 45 and I was like, "I hope the writer doesn't f*** the rest up." I called my brother and said, "You've got to read this right away." And he wasn't into it. My heart went straight into my stomach. But I said, "Sleep on it" and three hours later, he went to sleep, and when we woke up, he started writing our manifesto.

Albert Hughes: I went into manic mode. I was really passionate for the first time in years. And I got back to the States and went to the meeting at Warner Bros. and the books had not arrived in the mail yet. My kid's mother lives in Claremont and the books were going there. I was stalling them with a powerpoint presentation. Anyway, we showed them our take and within the hour, it was our movie.

THR: How did you get Denzel Washington on board?

Allen Hughes: They were tossing out names of the $20 million actors, and near the end I said, "What about Denzel Washington?" The whole room just stopped. The top brass at Warners was there and the Man himself said --

THR: The "Man" being?

Allen Hughes: Alan Horn. Jeff Robinov was the one who made this happen for us. Alan Horn, he had a problem with some of the logic and the delicacy of dealing with faith. When Denzel came up, you could see the light bulb go on in his head. But it took a while. It went away, it came back, Denzel was doing other things, money was there, money wasn't there. I made a personal plea -- this was off the books, off the record. I went to see Denzel and no one knew, I told him, "You got to do this." And he said, "I'll do this movie but they've got to make me a partner." And I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "They've got to make me a producer." And I said, "Denzel, normally if an actor said that to me I'd take that as a threat," but I knew what he brings to the table. He thinks like a filmmaker.

THR: What did he do to produce?

Allen Hughes: We had six different drafts, from the spec to when Tony Peckham did a rewrite. Every day Denzel would bring out all six and put on his grandpa glasses and he'd have highlighters and he was literally going through every one and trying to create the best one. He was acting all the roles too. He would get up and start making up dialogue. We did weeks of him improvising into a recorder.

THR: You guys are big comic book fans. What were some of your favorites?

Allen Hughes: I remember when "The 'Nam" came out. Loved that comic book! We liked "Conan" the most, especially the big one you could get at 7-11.

THR: What are you reading now?

Allen Hughes: I'm not reading anything. As I've gotten older, and I'm speaking for myself here, I like to go out and look at life. I love characters. I associate with everyone from pimps and dope dealers to CEOs and blue collar people. If there's something about them, I want to spend time with them. The only way we're going to do something new and different is to look out the window and seek it. Not copy, because that is what has happened with our generation and the one that has followed. A cinephile is a cinephile; he's not a filmmaker. A comic book junkie is a comic book junkie; he's not a filmmaker. The modern filmmaker is what the signature novelist used to be. That is the esteem they carry now. So you should get out and live life. Be like Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain. They had real lives before and during the times they wrote.
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